Are wildfires, tsunamis movies what audiences want to see now?
This fall's Northern California wildfires have claimed 42 lives so far. While it's craven to think about the devastation and loss in relation to a commercial movie opening Friday, "Only the Brave" has a lot riding on audience appetite for a fact-based wildfire saga at this particular moment.
Valiantly, the movie wards off its own cliches long enough to account for a fair amount of what actually happened. In 2013 the Prescott, Ariz., municipal firefighters known as the Granite Mountain "hotshots" lost 19 men in the nearby Yarnell blaze, more casualties than any firefighter tragedy since September 11, 2001.
The movie, starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch and Jeff Bridges, is being marketed as a granite hunk of true-blue American heroics. The script came from the GQ magazine account, "No Exit." That title never was going to look like money on Fandango. "Only the Brave" is more like it from the sales angle: It sounds more like a story of survivors, not casualties.
Will people go? Sony/Columbia is hoping that recent media interest in the Northern California fires will stoke audience awareness of the subject matter. But the popularity, and the paradox, of real-world escapism is unpredictable.
"Geostorm" also opens Friday. (I haven't seen it; no press screenings; no Thursday night sneak previews, even.) It's a disaster movie about climate-control satellites running amok. It's also about a plot to assassinate the president. It's also about Gerard Butler not getting along with his brother, played by Jim Sturgess.
It has opened overseas already. "If you're the kind of person who hunts for a 'good bad movie,' " writes Liam Maguren of the New Zealand website flicks.co.nz, "then beer yourself up."